9 thoughts on “Election 2019: GOP Candidates for Board of Ed Debate School Start Times, District Funding

  1. Mr. LaGattuta, while administrative costs and headcount may well be the low hanging fruit for budget cost containment, let me suggest that it may not be wise to justify cuts in that area by saying that administrative costs do not affect the quality of education of our students. Since it is the largely the administrators who develop the curriculum that is taught by the teachers in the classroom the administrators have a profound effect on the quality of education in the classroom.

    Thanks for covering this meeting, Mike.

    • Hi Gregg:

      To clarify, when I was speaking about reducing administrative costs, I started off discussing consolidating back office administrative operations with the town such as payroll or finance that do not directly affect the education of our students. I also mentioned possibly reducing headcount where the biggest savings would be. Using data from the CT EdSight page, New Canaan has had a 16% increase in FTE (Full Time Equivalent) employees between 2007/8 and 2017/18 but only a 3% increase in student enrollment. And most of this excess growth has been in non-instructional staff. New Canaan had an excellent school system when we had a lower employee to student ratio 10 years ago and I think we should look carefully at the growth in headcount over the last decade to see what is really necessary.

      • Dan is right to site the increase in non-instructional staff. We need to understand this in detail and, as James mentions below, weigh the cost-benefit. I suspect it has to do with an increase in (1) counselors/psychologists and (2) administrators to file paperwork in accordance with state mandates, much of which probably goes unread and unused. This is again why health/wellness is the issue and why we need to work hard against state mandates that waste money.

  2. It isn’t a question of whether administrators have an impact on the classroom. It’s a question of how many do you need before their cost outweighs their benefit?

    • Just trying to keep the new candidate in line. His choice of words matters. I was not suggesting that the value of administration expenditures is so great that there is no room for cuts. Just sayin’ they do affect the classroom.

  3. Thanks to the RTC for hosting the BOE candidate forum earlier this week and to Michael for covering it in the story above. Given time constraints in the forum, I was not able to articulate a complete response on the “later start time” topic. So, I am posting below the full text of my response to six questions the Healthy School Start Times New Canaan group asked of all candidates earlier this week. As I think health and wellness is the most important issue, along with making sure our schools continue to be excellent in a financially constrained environment, I think it’s important that voters understand how I’m thinking about this issue.

    “Since I decided to run for the BOE, I have studied this issue to the best of my ability. The information and links posted on the Start New Canaan Later site were very helpful, as were links on the NCPS tab dedicated to this topic. A clear positive from the recently completed Hanover survey was the extent of parent participation and how well informed they are—83% of participants indicated they have enough information. So, thanks for the SNCL’s efforts to help us all educate ourselves.

    I want to give you the most thoughtful answers I can, and I can best do this outside the strictures of the six questions below, though I will address all of them.

    At the bottom of this e-mail, I paste the five guiding principles I’ve formulated to apply to all matters that come before the Board. You will notice that student well-being tops the list, including physical and emotional health. Students in high school and college are seeking psychological counseling at unprecedented rates. As a society, we need to understand why and make changes to help young people feel in balance.

    I have read the statements from the AMA, CDC, AAP, etc. The medical studies on shifts in sleep cycles are scientifically done and compelling. They also align with what any parent can see with his or her own eyes. As they’ve entered adolescence, my boys have stayed up and slept later. We should consider and implement every measure that helps students be healthier, including being properly rested and emotionally balanced. This includes later start times, as well as things like block period scheduling, establishing guidelines for homework and testing load and implementing systems to track and enforce them.

    I also reviewed the studies on effectiveness of later start times in addressing the underlying problem of insufficient sleep. Unfortunately, unlike the medical studies, not many have been undertaken, most of these have not been scientifically designed (I am a data analyst by training), and the conclusions about effectiveness are varied. One can imagine how later start times could be undermined by unintended effects, e.g. busy students simply shifting their schedules to complete their activities and homework, others just staying up later with their screens, etc. So, I worry that if we view later start times as a cure-all, we could end up disappointed. This is again why I think it’s important to think about later start times as an important component of broader changes to promote student wellness. And at the end of the day, parents need to exercise their responsibility as well. For example, my wife and I set up a wi-fi exclusively for our sons, which turns off at 10:30 (as does their cellular data).

    With respect to financing the increased transportation costs likely required to implement later start times for the 7th-12th graders, I will go to work on this issue. First, we need to arrive at the optimal schedule, which I’m not sure we’ve even seen yet. It needs to balance later start times for the older students, young students not going to school in the dark, ample time for after school activities, costs, etc. This gets to your question 5. The BOE should be working hand-in-hand with the administration in running all these issues to ground. At this point, a sub-committee or working group is appropriate, including with parent and community representation. I believe weighing input from many sources and perspectives will achieve a better decision.

    There will not be a perfect answer, but once we at least agree the best alternative schedule, I would like to work on making it as cost effective as possible. I believe we should use this occasion to revisit optimizing bus routing for potential cost savings. But even if we are diligent in finding transportation efficiencies, later start times will very likely have budget implications. Adding to the challenge is the fact that bus service is in the 20% of the overall NCPS budget that the BOF and BOE have looked to find savings to offset cost inflation in the 80% of the budget that goes to salaries and healthcare benefits. Over the last two years, NCPS overall budget increases have been under 2%. As salaries and benefits have grown closer to 3%, the 20% services piece of the pie has actually been reduced slightly, which the administration and BOE have accomplished with efficiency projects.

    As people have become aware that I’m running for BOE, reining in costs, along with later start times, has been the topic people have most raised with me. Given this, and the real fiscal pressures in the state and locally, it appears to me that tight budgets are here to stay. So while later start times is clearly a priority for inclusion in the budget, as your question 4 indicates, if the town does not accommodate this new cost, funding would have to be diverted from something else. If it comes down to that, I will weigh the benefits of later start times versus those of the item which would be cut—from the right perspective.

    The right perspective, in my eyes, is what best serves students’ well-being. And here I will conclude in answering your question 6. From the recently completed Hanover survey, in the open response section, 54% of parents overall supported change (significantly varying depending on student age) while only 23% of staff did. (In the “forced responses” a similar ~55% of parents opposed the current schedule; though it was difficult to weigh support for an alternative schedule, I believe due to having 4 choices to consider.) But I don’t think either group should be the focus. I recognize that finding daycare is a real issue for some teachers and parents, but these are addressable issues. The most important constituency is the students. Full stop. And here I don’t mean what the students indicate in their surveys, but what we, as adults responsible for them, conclude is in their best interest taken as a whole. Making such judgments with clear eyes would be my job as a member of the Board of Ed.

    Thanks for the questions. I look forward to engaging with your group.”

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